A new Gallup poll reports again what has long been a recognized truth: moms who work outside the home are less troubled by anger and sadness and are less likely to be diagnosed with depression than are mothers who stay home with their little kids. What should moms make of this?
First, there’s nothing new here. The relationship between outside work and mothers’ happiness is long established. But if you are a stay-at-home mom, there’s no need to dust off your resume and find some childcare. Knowing that being a stay-at-home mom can be difficult just means we need to take steps to ease the difficulty. Here are some ideas.
First, recognize that if you are a stay-at-home mom and you’re feeling unhappy and upset more often than you think is right, then recognize that it’s not you. This is normal. No guilt feelings needed. This means you’re not a bad mother if you envy your sister who’s balancing motherhood and career (and complains about it all the time!). It’s okay. But at the same time, realize that your doctor will have seen this before. If you need help – if your sadness and angry feelings are starting to worry you – then it’s okay to get help. It’s normal to feel this way.
Second, notice money pressure and keep it separate from mothering pressure. One of the findings in the Gallup poll was that lower-income stay-at-home moms are more depressed and more unhappy than stay-at-home moms who are more comfortably placed. This seems to suggest that not having enough money – at whatever economic level – makes stay-at-home mothers question their decision to stay at home and contributes to their frustration. So just be aware of this. Try to notice that it’s not the children who make you so unhappy and it’s not being responsible for their care 24/7 and not having other adults to talk with. These are factors – well-off stay-at-home moms feel sad too – but these are not the only factors. Lack of money makes everything harder. Keep money separate in your mind.
Third, carve out productive time for yourself. If mothers who work outside the home are less sad and angry than mothers who stay home, then what is it that makes the difference for those working moms? How can you give yourself some of what they have? Studies on life satisfaction show that having work of one’s own is important but that this doesn’t have to be paid work outside the home. It can be a hobby, volunteer work for a charity or parents’ group, even an at-home business. If you’re feeling frustrated at home, create something else to keep your mind busy and something else besides the children to which you apply your talents. Let yourself be more than your children’s mother.
Finally, let your partner know. Your husband may think because you are home all day with the children that an immaculate home and gourmet meals are part of the package. If your partner thinks this way – and if you’ve allowed this thinking to take hold by trying to be a Super Woman – now is the time to have a frank conversation. Use this article as a starting point, if you like. Remind your partner that a happy, stress-free environment is a requirement for children’s brain development, intellectual abilities and healthy social adjustment. If being a stay-at-home mother is important to you and to your husband, then doing what’s necessary to be a happy stay-at-home mother is equally important.
The Gallup poll points up more than anything else that being a mother these days is not easy, not for stay-at-home mothers any more than it is for mothers who are juggling home and work. It’s normal to feel stressed. Just don’t let the stress get you down!
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.